WEST GHANA via NY, NY – What a week it was for the Barbarians – the Rugby club known as Barbarians FC of London, England. Don’t let the FC fool you, this is still a rugby club and one of the most storied in the History of Rugby.
The Barbarians have been around since 1890. They are an invitation only all-star team of rugby players from throughout the world. They started mainly in England but now are a global team. No player may request to be a Baa-Baa – you get an invite from their offices. This includes coaches. They are considered the United Nations of Rugby and prior to the start of the professional era, were the only opportunity a fan got to see some of the game’s greats play side by side.
With the advent of the Pro Era this has been lost a bit as has the magnitude of the match. Now coaches mostly play their fringe players and the big names a fewer in number. However the Baa-Baas are still steeped in tradition and adhere to two principles:
1) The Jersey’s remain wide black and white stripes with black shorts while players are allowed to wear the socks of his club or country.
2) One member of the squad will always be uncapped. This means one person will never have represented his country at full international level.
Anyway, this was a big week for the Baa-Baas because the played very well in a loss to England, defeated Ireland by 1 and ran Wales close and to the wire before they lost. You may be thinking to yourself, ‘How does a 1-point win and 2 losses equal a good week?’ Simple answer; with the program being what it is in terms of the number of practices, there is no time to work on defensive alignments or specific aspects of the game, so the Baa-Baas should almost always lose. They get together for maybe a week, have a few practices and bar sessions and then have to play against teams that have been in camp for weeks with players having played with each other for anywhere from 10-40 tests. The Baa-Baas don’t even have a proper field, they practice at a local park. As was once said by Wallabies Coach Robbie Deans “A championship team will almost always beat a team of champions.” This was after Australia hammered the Baa-Baas 60-11 in November of last year.
Some people suggest that the Barbarians should be ended – that they are a hallmark of times gone by. But those folks would throw Grandma of the train too, in my humble opinion. Sorry, but in this ever-changing world in which we live in (as Paul McCartney wrote, something as timeless as the Baa-Baas must be kept and honored. They could have beaten Wales but in true Baa-Baas fashion they choose to play running-rugby instead of than hunker-down and grind-it-out rugby.
This try they scored against New Zealand in 1973 in what is still hailed as the greatest try ever, in the greatest rugby game ever, encapsulates the style of running rugby that defines the Barbarians.
Having watched their matches, a this was what became clear; there is still room for the Baa-Baas in Rugby. Granted, England which had about half of its first-stringers in the lineup, Ireland was really just an Ireland team made up of Munster and Ulster players and Wales was completely second-string (the first team was already in Australia for the summer tour). But this is the niche for the Barbarians now and after they get a couple of matches under their elastic, they are much better by the final game. More importantly, however, the matches were exciting, hotly-contested and top-level. As a fan and a rugby purist, I would take that any day of the week.
The Barbarians RFC are great ambassadors of the game. The IRB agreed so much that they inducted the Barbarians and their founder W.P. Carpmeal into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2011. 122 years of running rugby and counting! And a final note to the naysayers: Simply ask the fans at the matches if they think the Barbarians should be left at the gate.
I’ll leave you with that and an invitation to join me in the NYC area for the Friday Afternoon Drinking Club as depicted in Jay Atkinson’s book Memoirs of a Rugby-Playing Man. You can find all of us on Twitter: @RugbyWrapUp – or just me: @JunoirBlaber. Let me know if you are down for a few pints and some rugby talk.
Until next time, stay low and keep pumping those legs.